31 Days of Horror, Day 31: Jennifer’s Body

By Stephen Palmer

When making that perfect meal, there are two key rules – follow the recipe, and get the very best ingredients. Everything else is just adds to the general appearance, but if you get those basics right? You won’t go far wrong. Making a film is pretty similar – get the right story, and deliver it with the best creative team, and you’ll almost certainly get an enjoyable film. “Jennifer’s Body” is the exception that proves this rule.

Let me take you back to 2009. Megan Fox was one of the hottest properties in cinema, with her face and body being plastered all over the unfathomably internationally successful first couple of entries into the Transformers franchise. Amanda Seyfried was a key part of popular movies like “Mean Girls” and “Mamma Mia!”, along with a major role in hip TV show “Veronica Mars”.

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Director Karyn Kusama had shown great promise with “Girlfight”, which was showered with awards, and though her sophomore effort “Æon Flux” failed to quite deliver, she still had credit in the bank, and had a well-documented love of the Horror genre that should have made her a good fit to deliver a script by Diablo Cody – herself fresh off the critical success of charming Teen Pregnancy comedy “Juno”. This looked like a really promising mix of talent to bring Cody’s darkly comic take on High School horror to life.

Sadly, something somewhere went very wrong, and the film bombed at the Box Office, and has a divisive reputation amongst horror fans to this day. So given the chance to check in on it a decade later, the question has to be – has time been kind to Jennifer’s Body?

Fox plays the titular Jennifer, the gorgeous High School Cheerleader, who for historical reasons is best friends with the sweet but nerdy Anita (Seyfried) who goes by the telling sobriquet ‘Needy’. The two form an unlikely couple of BFFs that draws plenty of comments about the nature of their friendship from their school-friends, but Needy’s girl-crush is balanced out by her seemingly heathy relationship with her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons). One evening Jennifer convinces her friend to go to the local dive bar with her so she can catch a band whose lead singer she has the hots for.

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“On the humour side, you can’t fault the script for trying. There is some charm to Cody’s style, but where in Juno this worked a treat, here it feels forced and  frankly trying too hard.”

Tragedy strikes when the bar catches fire, and the band drag Jennifer into their tour bus. Whilst a number of people dies in the fire, it transpires that this has all been arranged so that the band can sacrifice Jennifer, the ritual they use apparently would exchange the live of a virgin for their future success. The ritual is indeed a success, but there is one miscalculation. Jennifer was no virgin, and the side effect appears to be that she is possessed by a Succubus, a demonic creature that lusts after human blood to keep itself vital. As Jennifer starts to eat her way through the young males of her school, Needy finds out the horrible truth and the two are put on a collision course toward their inevitable final battle.

On the face of it, “Jennifer’s Body” sounds like a film I’d actually rather enjoy. A smart and witty High School comedy with a dash of horror, performed with great commitment by the leads. But somehow it utterly fails in the execution. Whilst I could take issue with certain individual elements, the truth is the film fails in two crucial areas. It simply isn’t neither funny enough, nor is it horrific enough. For a comedy-horror, this is a rather fatal blow.

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On the humour side, you can’t fault the script for trying. There is some charm to Cody’s style, but where in Juno this worked a treat, here it feels forced and  frankly trying too hard. Reasonably contemporary movies such as “Clueless”, “Mean Girls” and “Heathers” all worked in a certain in-film linguistic style and quotable phrases that eventually pervaded the common lexicon (and oh, how I believe this film wants to be “Heathers”).

“Jennifer’s Body” clearly wants to do something similar, but it simply doesn’t create a cinematic world that is strong enough to permeate our physical reality. Worse still, many of the lines that could have been scene stealers are simply just dreadful. “My Tit” gasps Jennifer as she is stabbed during the final confrontation. “No” replies Needy “Your Heart”. And I made that exchange sound better than it did in the movie.

“Although the film ends up failing on its two key intended deliverables, it would be wrong for me to say it is a complete loss. Fox might be limited as an actress, but she gives herself to this role completely. Seyfried is charming and actually rather believable.”

The horror side of things is even more disappointing. There are a couple of clever effects, especially with Jennifer’s distended jaw, but the actual moments of gore that could have given the film a more visceral feel are flatter than the jokes. I think maybe there are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, there has clearly been a lot of Studio interference going on. I am certain there were constant notes from the executives telling the film makers to tone down this part of the film. Secondly, when faced with a US R rating, those in charge decided to test the limits of censors with a much publicised lesbian fumble rather than commit to acts a bloody violence.

Although the film ends up failing on its two key intended deliverables, it would be wrong for me to say it is a complete loss. Fox might be limited as an actress, but she gives herself to this role completely. Seyfried is charming and actually rather believable. The supporting cast get given teasing backstories that makes one wonder how their parts got revised out of the script. J.K. Simmons plays a teacher with mysterious burns on his neck and a metal hook for a hand.. but the seems to be no reason given for this, nor does it have any impact on the plot. The film is not without a classy visual style, and if you like early 2000 indie-emo rock, you’ll find the soundtrack fun.

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The strange choice to bookend the film with the story of Needy after the main events of the film also weakens it. We not only know that Needy survives the conflict in the first scene of the film, but then it actually goes and does something really interesting with the character that would have actually made any Jennifer vs Needy battle infinitely more visually exciting.

I usually try not to completely dump on a movie I am reviewing, and there is plenty to admire in “Jennifer’s Body”, but sadly its failure to deliver the elements that the film has made its foundation means it is hard for me to have much more than a ‘meh’ when considering it. There is one further example I want to give that shows how the film fails. It is named after a track from Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” album. Yet this song does not appear on the soundtrack, choosing instead the track “Violet” from the same album. Opportunity lost once again.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

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